Destruction has spread everywhere around the hollowed out shell of the once great Hope’s Peak Academy. The flora and fauna have died away, leaving only dusty, dirty craters behind. The school’s facade is cracked and faded, as though a desaturated filter had been laid over it, dulling everything that was once filled with life and colour. The air is thick with the lingering smell of death and decay.
Far too many lives have ended in this cradle of hope, soldiers and students alike. They had all believed that with Enoshima gone, the school would no longer be host to Despair, that the spirits of all those who had passed could finally rest in peace.
They were mistaken.
In the effort of fighting the Tragedy, the Future Foundation had put all of its efforts and funding into tracking down and capturing all of the floating Remnants of Despair that Enoshima had created. One by one they were hunted down and cornered, slowly gathered and held in secure areas.
They have hunted down all of them… save for one.
Naegi rubs his hands together and feels the grit sticking to his anxious sweat. He’s sitting in one of the Foundation’s armoured vehicles next to Kirigiri, drawing on her nearly infinite calm in order to keep his heart from racing.
They’re here without the others’ knowledge. Something about that feels heavy in his stomach, like leaden guilt, but he needs to be here. He knows he does. And after what happened during the killing game, she has always stayed his staunchest supporter. If he says he must go to Hope’s Peak in order to convince the last Remnant to come with them when all other venues of recovering him have failed, then she will facilitate his efforts.
He’s still unsure how she managed to gather a team of soldiers without Munakata or Togami knowing. Maybe Kizakura had helped her. They’d secured some vehicles and arms before setting out to their old school.
Thirty minutes ago a scout team went into the school to check for traps and ensure the presence of the final Remnant. In Naegi’s opinion, it’s far too long. No other strike teams have entered this school, seen the final Remnant, and survived.
Too many have died, so many that Naegi wants to weep. He’ll walk himself into hell if it means even one less person must die.
Kamukura Izuru… His true identity has been difficult to discern. Kirigiri eventually hunted down information about his original self, a Reserve Course student at Hope’s Peak who had submitted himself to experimental surgeries and eventually began aiding Enoshima in her conquest of Despair.
But why? Why did he help her? What was he like before Despair? Before the surgeries?
“Naegi,” Kirigiri says, interrupting his racing thoughts. “Calm down.”
“The scout team will inform us soon if he’s present or not.”
He’s not sure why they even need to risk their lives. He’s here. He knows it. He’s been here since the hunt for the Remnants started, as though he was broadcasting himself, waiting for Naegi to come.
Is that self-absorbed to think? He doesn’t want to think he’s being too arrogant, but there’s something about it… Perhaps it’s something only mutual Ultimate Hopes can understand. Maybe Kirigiri saw that special something inside of him when she gave him that title.
They wait until one full hour has passed without any contact from the scout team.
She sighs and opens the door, stepping out. He follows her with a queasy feeling in his stomach, staring up at the building he’d once been so eager to attend. The feeling of awe is still present, but for all of the wrong reasons. Instead of hope, he feels a blunt terror.
The few soldiers who had stayed to protect them turn when they exit the vehicle, saluting Kirigiri and nodding at him so deeply they’re almost bowing. It’s still hard to realize and stomach the fact that people genuinely consider him the embodiment of Hope. He’s just another person. His only real skill is staying positive.
Kirigiri easily commands the attention of everyone when she steps forwards. “Everyone. Naegi will enter the school now.”
The soldiers immediately sort themselves out into two groups - the ones who will remain with Kirigiri and the vehicles, and those who will go with Naegi. He shakes his head.
“No,” Kirigiri says. “He will go in alone.”
A wave of discontent go through the soldiers. Despite his relatively low rank in the Foundation, he is their figurehead. The icon of Hope. If they allow him to die, the ensuing wave of Despair will be on their heads. He wishes not for the first time that he could go back to being the utterly normal, forgettable, boring boy he was before all of this.
“Don’t worry,” Kirigiri says, a near smile in her voice. “This man next to me… is the Ultimate Hope. He won’t die in a place such as this.”
He steps up next to her with the most reassuring smile he can muster. The soldiers still seem reluctant, but they don’t stop him as he walks by them. All they do is salute and watch as he makes his way around the cracked earth into the school’s entrance.
When he reaches the doorway, he turns back. Kirigiri hasn’t moved an inch, arms crossed and face determined. She believes in him. He can see it in her eyes. His will steels again.
He can do this.
The doors open under his hand and he steps into the stale, dusty air of the academy. He can smell the iron in the air of long dead corpses that once lined the hallways from the uprising of the Reserve Course students mixed with the fresh blood of the scouting team Kirigiri had sent ahead of him.
He clasps a hand over his chest to fight against the ache inside of it. If only he had fought harder to go in first.
His footsteps echo hollowly as he makes his way to the next floor up, sternly ignoring the various old stains of blood and the slashes on the walls. After the Foundation had helped them recover their memories, he’d had to take a few days to himself to digest the slaughter that had happened inside of these very hallways.
As he steps into the stairwell leading up to the second floor, he flinches at the sight of fresh blood sprayed across the wall. One of their soldiers, dead, throat cut. He stops to take their dog tags and pray for their soul before moving on. The process repeats four more times until finally he reaches the classroom in which the Remnant is rumoured to haunt. The weight of their deaths hang around his neck like a heavy weight.
Beyond this door, he’ll meet his predecessor, the man who held the title of Ultimate Hope first. Naegi anxiously sweeps hair out of his face, tugging at his bangs, and adjusts his tie.
This is it.
He opens the door to the classroom that once housed class 77-B, the Remnants of Despair. It makes a sound as it opens, clearly alerting Kamukura to his presence, but he doesn’t put any thought into it. Kamukura must have known he was coming anyways.
The dimming evening sunlight casts the room with a warm, golden glow, highlighting the desks and chairs. The room is fairly intact beyond the gaping, cracking holes in the wall, and the debris littering the ground.
Standing by the open wall, by a desk with a clean vase with a still lively looking flower, is Kamukura Izuru.
He’s dressed in a simple black suit, back facing towards the door, towards Naegi. His long hair is blowing the wind, tendrils curling and tangling almost as though they’re living, glowing in the golden light of the setting sun. Then he turns and looks at Naegi and he feels his breath stolen away.
Red eyes gaze coldly at him, strands of black occasionally obscuring his eyes. The gleam of the sun brightens those sharp eyes, until they look as though Kamukura has fire burning inside of them. The trim suit seems to bely the danger coiled in his body, but every hair raises on Naegi’s neck, his very base animal instincts inside of him telling him to turn and run. Every inch of him is utterly entrancing.
He’s inhumanly beautiful.
Kamukura says nothing, simply stares at him with those burning, cold eyes.
It takes Naegi a few long moments to regain himself. The vision of Kamukura burns itself into his eyes, into his mind, carving something permanent into his being. This man is unspeakably dangerous, a killer and a terrorist, but Naegi can’t stop himself from feeling as though he’s looking at a masterpiece of art.
“Hello,” he finally manages, sounding breathless even to his own ears.
Kamukura turns fully to face him, hair curling around him and twisting in the breeze. There isn’t even a speck of blood or dust on him.
Naegi feels the compulsion to say his name aloud. “Kamukura Izuru.”
“You… Are you going to kill me?”
Kamukura frowns. “A pointless question. If I wanted you dead, you would have already been killed before stepping into this classroom.”
Naegi can’t help but huff out a small laugh at that despite the utter lack of humour. “That’s true. You killed a lot of people to keep them out of here, so I guess I should consider myself lucky.” He takes a step further into the room and feels his gaze pulled away from the burning perfection in front of him, towards the vase with the flower. “The person who’s desk that is… Is that supposed to be Nanami Chiaki’s desk?”
Kamukura doesn’t move or respond, but Naegi feels his negative reaction towards that question. He takes it as a ‘yes’.
He’s not sure why Kamukura is here, haunting a classroom and tending to a mourning vase of a girl he ostensibly should not have known. There’s so much about him that Naegi wants to learn.
“You probably already know why I’m here, too.”
“To capture me.” Kamukura slowly tilts his head, burning eyes narrowing. “But… more than that. You’re here for something more. I’ve heard whispers. Rehabilitation.”
Naegi tries very hard not to let the surprise show on his face. He had proposed the rehabilitation plan to the other survivors, Kirigiri and Togami foremost, and had gotten Alter Ego to agree to creating a separate AI to assist. But that information should never have reached beyond their ears. Not even Tengan or Munakata should know of it.
“You cannot hide anything from me.”
He scratches his cheek and then rips his hand back down, remembering Kirigiri’s many lectures about his anxious ticks and hiding them. “Are you… going to stop us?”
Kamukura shakes his head.
“Then will you come back with me?”
“You will regret doing this.”
Kamukura says nothing as he approaches, footsteps utterly silent. Naegi feels his chest tighten in a mixture of fear and some other emotion that he associates with Kirigiri but a thousand times stronger - awe, maybe. Respect. Something startlingly warm. He stops so close that Naegi could reach out and touch him, and he almost does, hand rising as though drawn in magnetically, but he stops himself.
He swallows thickly. “Kamukura… I won’t regret it. I know I won’t. No matter what happens, I would never regret trying to help all of you.”
“There is nothing in me to help.”
“That’s wrong. Everyone… Everyone can be helped. Even someone like you. Don’t you want to go back to who you were before they hurt you?”
It’s still almost impossible to believe that such horrible things happened at Hope’s Peak, that the school he’d once held in such high regard would do something like that to a student who loved hope so much… But that is the truth, and he cannot turn away from that.
Kamukura tilts his head. “You assume I want to return to being that useless person?”
Naegi frowns. “You didn’t say it’s impossible… Which means it’s possible?”
His face stays in it’s coldly neutral expression, but he gets the impression that Kamukura is laughing internally at him and his weak attempt at divining the meaning behind his words. Or maybe he’s just projecting...
“You are so concerned with helping mass murderers that you’ll place your own head under the guillotine in their stead.”
He grimaces at that. It’s true. The Foundation will certainly consider him a criminal for doing this… Togami has already infiltrated the holding cells with men who are loyal to him above the Foundation in preparation to cut and run with the Remnants. The heir had complained constantly even as he secured Jabberwock Island and worked with Kirigiri to find a ship that could transport them all.
Togami is quite difficult at times, but… It deeply humbles Naegi to realize that the stubborn, haughty man respects him so much that he’d willingly enable an insane plan like this.
“I know that I’ll probably be punished for doing this,” Naegi agrees, “but I just can’t stand by anymore. Killing you guys won’t achieve anything except for more bloodshed. I can’t watch any more people die if I can help it. No matter what, I’ll do everything in my power to help you, and I will never regret that.”
“Is that what it means to you, to be the Ultimate Hope?”
Kamukura shuts his eyes and bows his head slightly in acknowledgement. “Then we shall see which of us is correct.”
And with that, he steps around Naegi, and silently walks out of the classroom. Naegi takes a last look at the desk with the flower, sees it as proof that there still is a human being inside of Kamukura. He clenches his hands and reaffirms his decision to rescue the Remnants from themselves.
He steps out of the classroom and finds Kamukura waiting for him.
“Okay. Let’s go then.”
Naegi turns and walks back by the bodies of the soldiers who had died for absolutely no reason at all, feels the barest edge of anger towards the silent man behind him, but he swallows it down. All he has to do is get them to the island and then Alter Ego and the Neo World Program will save them.
As he continues heading back out of the school he feels like Orpheus guiding his love Eurydice out of hell. He can’t hear any footsteps. The urge to look behind him is almost overwhelming but he feels as though he will lose… something if he turns back.
Upon opening the doors of the school, his fears are erased. The shocked looks on the faces of the soldiers and the way they ready their guns is enough proof that Kamukura is still following him. Kirigiri waves at them to lower their guns, and she smiles in relief at him before she schools her expression back.
“Kamukura Izuru,” she greets coolly. “Will you allow yourself to be handcuffed?”
“It doesn’t matter if you handcuff me or not. Nothing will change.”
“Then I’d like to. Please put out your hands in front of you.”
Kamukura obliges, every inch of his body screaming confidence in his ability to escape the cuffs if he so desired to, and Naegi believes he could. Kirigiri does too. This play acting is just to keep the soldiers calm. He feels a small amount of gratitude towards his fellow Hope for allowing them to pretend for a moment that they’re in control.
The cuffs quietly click shut and Kirigiri steps back, motioning for Kamukura to step into their vehicle.
It’s a quiet, tense ride to the docks where their ship is stationed. They can’t bring Kamukura anywhere near the Foundation for fear of someone discovering their plans. Along the way, Kirigiri calls Togami and signals for him to begin the evacuation of the Remnants and rendezvous with them at the docks.
The entire ride, Kamukura sits silently with his eyes closed. If Naegi didn’t know better, he’d even think the man had fallen asleep.
He looks less ethereal without the setting sun highlighting his features. He looks more human. He looks like the boy in the pictures Kirigiri had found in Hope’s Peak’s files. Suddenly it’s not so difficult to see Hinata Hajime inside of Kamukura.
With the Neo World Program, they’ll pull the fragments of that boy back together.
The freighter groans as it makes its way through the ocean, heading towards Jabberwock Island, the defunct base that the Future Foundation had built and abandoned.
The ocean is one of the few things he does not find immeasurably boring. It moves unpredictably. It contains thousands upon thousands of secrets unknown to mankind, even beyond his own comprehension. Even during this trip, it has managed to excite him by rocking the ship in a manner he did not expect.
He could almost consider it a mildly enjoyable trip, if only…
“What are you thinking about?”
… if only they had not found it fit to trap him in the same room as Komaeda. Always chattering, always annoying. If it were not for the fact that occasionally Komaeda’s Luck could provide him interest, he would have simply refused to be placed with him.
“Are you thinking about the island? Ahah, I wonder how beautiful it will look! I can’t wait! I’m so glad that we’re all on this journey together!”
He wishes he would shut up for once.
“To think that the new Ultimate Hope would go so far for us…” Komaeda shivers and clutches at himself. “It’s so inspiring. I wish that I could speak with him face to face,so that I could tell him how much I admire his hope… I only saw him briefly when we were getting on board, but his shining hope was like a beacon! Utterly amazing!”
Shining hope, is it? Kamukura dislikes the inaccuracy of poetic language, but even he cannot deny the strange glow in the smaller man’s eyes when he’d confronted him in the school. There is something about his presence that intrigues him.
He wonders just which one of them will come out victorious. Which ‘Hope’ will be found correct?
“You met him, didn’t you? What was he like?”
Small. Easily flustered. Naive. Determined. And far, far too unaware of the effect he has on those around him. He could see it in the Foundation’s agents that had been waiting for them outside of the Academy, the idolization in their eyes when Naegi had led him out, the near reverence when Naegi had returned the dog tags of the soldiers Kamukura had murdered.
“We won’t forget their names or sacrifices. Their memories are still with us, so please… Let’s all keep fighting for them, and everyone else.”
What an insipid, empty speech. But Naegi believed in his words and that belief had seeped into the others, like an infection. And yet, he doesn't seem to acknowledge his own power. His word could save thousands of lives, or end thousands in the same breath.
He’s their Hope. The embodiment of it. The living incarnation of it in their eyes, just as Enoshima had been the living incarnation of Despair. He wonders if Kirigiri realizes just what she did to him when she gave him that title, what kind of weight she had just placed on Atlas' back. With that title, she had given him a rope, and all that's left is to wait for him to hang himself with it.
For someone who had once claimed the title of Ultimate Luck, Kamukura believes that Naegi has become victim of the worst luck imaginable.
“I’m sure it was amazing. Two Hopes in the same room!” Komaeda shudders. “I can only imagine!”
The sick interest in Komaeda’s eyes irritates him. Perhaps Naegi is not so unlucky after all. He’s avoided being stuck in a room with Komaeda.
“Ahah, no need to be so unfriendly! By the way, why did you want us all to obey when the Ultimate Hope and his friends came to retrieve us? Not that I’m questioning you or your decisions, not at all, it’s just -”
Komaeda laughs gratingly and mimes zipping his mouth shut with Enoshima’s hand.
Kamukura shuts his eyes and allows himself to fall into a meditative state, lulled by the rocking of the ship in the unpredictable ocean waves. They’ll arrive at the island soon, and then… He pictures the USB in his pocket, containing the Alter Ego Enoshima.
Their trial run in Towa City had been as good as could be expected. Her AI had functioned perfectly, learning and reacting, behaving just as chaotically as her living self had been. Her chattering was even more annoying than Komaeda’s…
He wonders what will happen, when he uploads her AI to the Neo World Program. He assumes she will attempt to usurp their bodies by uploading her AI consciousness into their comatose bodies. If so, he already feels annoyed by her predictability. She had promised him a world of chaos, that the chaos would finally interest him, but he still feels plagued by boredom. Nearly everything still happens as he predicts.
Perhaps this fledgling Hope will finally grant him the reprieve from boredom he’s been searching for. After all, even he is not completely sure if the Neo World Program will truly be able to revive Hinata.
And even if it does, will Hinata survive what Enoshima has planned? Will Kamukura and Hinata both perish, having their minds overwritten by Enoshima?
His mouth quirks upwards into an unfamiliar expression.
He cannot wait.
They file off of the ship, most of the others blinking in the abrupt sunlight. There’s only a skeleton crew running the ship, and the three survivors who shepherd them - Togami, Kirigiri, and of course the gem in their midst, Naegi.
Some of the others size up the crew. All together, none of them could put up a fight if they went all out. They’re all practiced murderers. Kamukura predicts a near 100% chance that they would decimate the Foundations men, and easily take the three survivors hostage. With Naegi in their possession, the Ultimate Despair would have next to no enemy willing to attack them in fear of killing their precious Hope.
When the Remnants look at him for permission to attack, he shakes his head, and instead turns to follow Naegi who leads them further into the island, flanked by Togami and Kirigiri.
Kuzuryu makes an annoyed sound. He is among the most actively violent of the Despairs, but even he knows his place. With a sharp word to Pekoyama, he stalks after them.
Their macabre parade continues onto the island. It’s nearly idyllic. Blue skies, soft sandy shores kissing the ocean waves, tropical trees and healthy flora lining the pathways. This place is not simply a dumping grounds for them. This is intended to be a semi-permanent home for them. That is how confident they are that they can truly rehabilitate them.
The Neo World Program is a scientific marvel, that he cannot deny. When multiple Ultimate minds come together it’s only natural that they create something as complex as it. However, it was never designed to endure an AI worm attacking it from the inside.
Enoshima always did excel at exploiting unexpected weaknesses.
Kirigiri and Togami both keep one eye behind them, suspicion clear in their eyes. The man between them seems ignorant to their tension, or perhaps is simply choosing to ignore it, turning only once to cast a look over them. They meet eyes.
Kamukura feels a deep compulsion inside of him when Naegi gives him that same stern look of determination. A compulsion to do what, he strangely does not know. It makes excitement build, crackling along his spine.
This... is exciting.
Who will win? Between himself and Naegi, and between himself and Hinata.
When they finally reach the hub of the Neo World Program, he palms the USB and allows himself to fade into the background, utilizing his Ultimate Secret Agent skills to become nearly unnoticeable. The survivors begin directing the others into their pods. Kamukura finds the main computer and inserts the USB before turning away and allowing himself to be noticed again. By the time they find the new addition, it will be too late. Enoshima will be inside with them.
Her worm will take a few days to examine and learn the inner workings of the program, but she has all of the computing power she’ll need built in.
Kirigiri motions to him, guides him to an empty bed. “Over here.”
Kamukura obediently lays down in his pod upon Kirigiri’s request, feeling Naegi’s gaze on him as he does. The younger Hope comes up to him with those powerful eyes and Kamukura feels the buzz of excitement again. Kirigiri turns away to give them privacy.
“I’m going to prove you wrong,” he says quietly. “We’re going to save you all. Or… maybe to be more accurate, you’re all going to save yourselves. When it’s all done, I’ll expect an apology from you.”
His mouth quirks again, surprising them both.
Naegi blinks rapidly, mouth curling up in response. “Ah! You smiled.”
Interesting. This is all so interesting. This Hope in front of him is so interesting. Perhaps he should thank Enoshima after all. Without her, this Hope would never have been born. She had unknowingly but carefully cultivated his budding talent throughout the killing game and granted Kamukura the good luck of meeting him.
He smiles wider, face feeling strange with the new expression.
Naegi doesn’t know the bloodshed that awaits the Remnants he’s so boldly declared he’ll save, doesn’t know the treachery Kamukura has committed. But he smiles back at Kamukura anyways, eyes full of warmth. He reminds him of Nanami.
He leans back, shuts his eyes, and waits to gamble his existence.
Which one of them will awaken when this is over?
“Naegi, get some rest.”
He jerks, startled, and guiltily looks over his shoulder at Kirigiri. He’s been up for nearly two days now, jamming as much caffeine into his system as he can with Togami irritably brewing up more and more for him, just so he can stay awake and watch the Remnants inside of their tropical dream.
They look so young. Fresh. Unburdened by death and despair.
The Observer that Alter Ego had programmed had taken the form of Nanami Chiaki. It feels appropriate for her to be reunited with her class in a way, although this isn’t really Nanami and her classmates don’t recognize her anyways.
And Kamukura… Naegi had almost cried in utter joy when the program had booted up and in Kamukura’s place had been Hinata Hajime, with his green eyes and short, spiked hair, dressed in a plain shirt with a patterned tie.
He’s so expressive. At times petulant or irritable, guided along by Komaeda through the surreal personalities of the Ultimate students he’d been grouped with.
His voice is the same, and his face is the same, but there’s something inherently different about him. He stands less confidently, shoulders tight and pulled up, hands occasionally unable to decide if they should be pushed into his pockets or if his arms should be crossed. He talks less exactly, less surely.
Naegi wants to reach in and touch him just to believe he’s real.
Really, he’d been more uncooperative and reluctant to engage with the Ultimates than Naegi had thought he’d be, especially considering that he’d once thrown away his own identity in order to become an Ultimate himself. He supposes that it makes sense, in a way. He doesn’t remember his true identity of being a Reserve Course student. He wonders if that part of him was repressed or removed by the surgery, or if that was a choice on Alter Ego’s end.
Whichever it is, he finds himself unable to pull away from the screens, mesmerized by their carefree attitudes. This is their new reality. Once they wake up, things will be better for everyone.
Maybe, Naegi and Hinata can become friends too.
Even if not… Even if Tengan and the others decide he’s gone too far and arrest him, or even execute him for treason, at least he’ll know that he did the right thing. All he has to do is see Hinata and the others smile and he knows he did the right thing.
Like he promised Kamukura, he won’t regret anything.
He rubs his eyes and feels the grit in them from staring at screens for hours - days - on end. The coffee in his cup has long since gone cold and he doubts Togami will be willing to make him more. Sometimes he and Kirigiri cooperate on some of the most unlikely of things, and he thinks that forcing him to sleep will be one of those things.
On cue, Kirigiri crosses her arms and tilts her head expectantly.
He sighs and scratches his cheek, feeling like a child being scolded. He’s just opening his mouth to surrender and give in when he hears it.
Kirigiri’s face goes colder than stone. Togami slams down his own cup of coffee, splashing his sleeve, and snarls. He just feels sick.
“Why… is Monokuma there…?” he asks weakly, head spinning a little, hoping against all hope that this is simply a hallucination from lack of sleep. It doesn’t make any sense. This is supposed to be a safe place. No one knew they were coming here, right? So how? How did someone invade their program?
Neither of them answer.
Even Alter Ego seems lost on how this virus entered the Neo World Program. “I’m sorry… All I can think is that it was uploaded here in the control room somehow! I feel so useless… I’m so sorry. I should have noticed sooner.”
Togami curses as Kirigiri immediately begins poking through the computers and wires. Naegi stares in mute horror at the screens as Monokuma details their Killing School Trip. What motives will she create this time? Which of them will die?
That thought cuts into him with a frightening pain.
“Alter Ego, what happens to them if they die in the simulation?”
Alter Ego looks teary eyed. “In the best case scenario, they’ll enter deep comas as a protective countermeasure. But to them, dying will feel utterly real, and their brains may simply cease functioning altogether.”
Naegi shakes his head in denial. That can’t be true. There’s no way… He had led them straight into a trap all while spouting bullshit about saving them.
And if he dies, what will happen to the fledgling copy of Hajime that they had resurrected?
Togami scoffs. “It’s better off this way. If they want to die in despair so badly, just let them.”
“How can you say that?!” he says, feeling dizzy as he spins on his heels. “How can we just let them die here?! After everything we’ve done -”
“You’re the one who wanted to save them. Not me.”
He feels the burning crawl of anger over his cheeks and up the back of his neck. Sometimes he forgets just how callous of a person Togami can be, how easy it is for him to write off another person’s life.
“Don’t give me that look,” Togami says, countenance softening. “They’ve all committed crimes more terrible than I care to imagine. This is their punishment.”
“Enoshima hurt them. She made them this way! It isn’t fair to punish them for things they didn’t want to do!”
“Want has nothing to do with it. They did those things, and that is fact. No amount of sweet words or therapy is ever going to change that fact. You can’t save everyone, Naegi, and it’s foolish to think you even should. ”
Kirigiri interrupts them with a curt, “I found it.”
She holds up a slim USB.
He understands now why Kamukura was so sure that Naegi would come to regret his actions. He had never intended for the Neo World Program to achieve its goals at all.
“You assume I want to return to being that useless person?”
“Kamukura…” he says weakly. It had to have been him.
Togami growls wordlessly as he storms around the room towards Kamukura’s pod.
“Togami! I can’t allow you to open that until the simulation has been completed!” Alter Ego says when Togami begins prying at the bed’s door. “If that is opened before they graduate, or before the system is forced to shut down from inside, it would be catastrophic! My programming will not allow them to open, so please stop.”
He slams a fist down on the plexiglass. “They don’t want to be saved. That’s the truth, Naegi. So what will you do now?”
His head is spinning. “Alter Ego… Can you stop her from inside?”
Alter Ego’s miserable expression is enough of an answer.
“So she’s already blocking you from inside…” he says. “Then… Then can… Is it possible for you to get a message through to them somehow? Can we tell them how to escape the simulation? About the emergency shut down?”
Alter Ego thinks for a moment. “It may be possible… This simulation was built with the intent of slowly readjusting them back to normal life, before the Tragedy, but it is possible for them to access some of the backend. There are locations in the simulation that contain information regarding their true identities - that information had to go somewhere after all. It won’t be easy though.”
“With Usami’s powers being nullified, it will be hard to keep them from spiralling into despair,” Kirigiri notes, arms crossed. “We will have to prepare for the possibility that they will begin murdering one another.”
“Inevitability,” Togami corrects.
Naegi shoots him an angry look. He believes in them. He has to believe in them. Under all of that despair had been happy, care-free children, all smiling and playful. And even if he can’t believe in them individually, they still have their second Observer.
“Alter Ego Nanami will help them through this! I’m sure of it!”
“You should know better than most how little one person can do against the panic Enoshima’s motives are designed to cause,” Kirigiri says softly.
“Then, Alter Ego, please do whatever you can to protect their minds if they do die in the simulation!”
Alter Ego nods, determination burning in his eyes.
“And…” This idea is crazy, even to his own mind, but he can’t not say it. “Please find if there is a way for me to enter the simulation as well.”
“Absolutely not,” Togami denies sharply.
“I’ll go in and explain everything. Then… Then no one has to die! I promised I would save them all, so I have to -”
“Absolutely not!” Togami shouts. “Think about your own safety for fucking once!”
He meets eyes with Kirigiri, startles at how strained she looks. Why does she look like that? “You - you’re the one who told me that I am ‘Hope’... I still don’t know if anything we’re doing is the right thing, but I have to… This is something I have to do. I won’t let her win again.”
She looks blue in the face, composure cracking. “I’m the one who told you…” Her voice is fraying.
“You did! That must mean that you believe in me! I can save them! We can save them!”
Kirigiri flinches slightly. Then she shakes herself hard and her calm mask slips back into place. “... I understand.”
“Kirigiri, you -!” Togami snarls. He looks between them with such vitriol Naegi’s surprised he doesn’t spit at them. He slams his fist against Kamukura’s pod again before turning on his heel and storming out of the room.
Alter Ego speaks up after a few tense moments as they wait to see if Togami will return. He doesn’t. Alter Ego guides them through the construction of the rigs they will need to enter the simulation.
They make three over the course of the next few weeks although Togami is still avoiding them, simply stationing himself by the screens on the other side of the room and watching as class 77-B’s tropical school trip becomes the worst sort of hell.
Naegi watches too, when he’s not making their jury-rigged set up. Hinata continues to enrapture him.
He’s fighting so hard. To think that he was a Reserve Course student… It makes him wonder what the hell qualifies as a talent, what separates them out from one another, when Hinata is one of the front-runners to solve every case, when he’s befriending the students even as their lives fall apart, even as he doesn’t even know who he is.
He smiles when Hinata makes a snide comment, and laughs at his antics with the wilder students among the group. His heart aches when he finds the bodies of his friends, and pounds when Hinata is in the trial room.
Hinata makes him want to work even harder. If he fails or doesn’t make it in time and Hinata dies, then… There’s a large chance they’ll never be able to retrieve his memories again. That part of him that had managed to hang on inside of Kamukura will be snuffed out forever.
He tears his eyes away from the screen and turns back to his work. Kirigiri gives him a small, knowing smile, glancing at the sun-tanned face he’s been staring at for who knows how long now.
He won’t let that happen. He won’t let Hinata slip away into nothingness again.